Breach Theatre’s Tank continues its tour of the UK, stopping in Birmingham. It blends a unique style of narration with a combination of multimedia to retell the story of the Dolphin House experiments.
Amid the space race, NASA scientists are tasked with investigating teaching English to extra-terrestrials. Dolphins, given their prehistoric brains, are the closest thing to work with. One of the researchers, Margaret Lovett, ended up spending 10 weeks living in close proximity to Peter, one of the male dolphins.
From records, part of the play is verbatim. This is particularly interesting, given that parts of it are transcribed from the dolphin’s speech. This is superbly created by the cast of four performers, who use microphones with added effects to stimulate these noises.
The performers shape the narrative and its context. Information not revealed in the transcripts is debated. What car did Lovett arrive in? What shoes was she wearing? All seems insignificant as her relationship grows with Peter, the dolphin with whom she shares her living quarters.
It feels strange to write about the dolphin as if he were a person, but the complexities of his behaviour and Breach’s portrayal of it feel so. Peter’s behaviour ranges from the aggressive to the tender but perhaps most shocking is how, though arguably functional, Lovett would masturbate Peter in order to relieve sexual urges which interrupted the experiments.
The tenderness is both bizarre and fascinating. The eventual breakdown of Peter and suicide is tragic in the raw physical actions that we see it in front of us. Although we don’t know the whole story – and Breach never attempt to suggest that they do either – we see a really challenging and emotive retelling of an odd piece of history which says both a lot about who we really are, and how the way we feel can truly affect us.